Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Chocolate Maker's Unconference & The Northwest Chocolate Fest: THE place to hone your craft

Learn. That is something we must continually do as chocolate makers. Learn about the beans and their processing, learn how to identify the taste of good processing and bad simply in a single bite, learn about the best equipment to make chocolate, learn how to better temper, package and sell our chocolate. Learning is an ongoing process and the best way to do that is to learn from other chocolate makers. And that is exactly what happens at the Chocolate Maker's Unconference annually in Seattle.

Um, can we say chocolate super-hero? This is ChloƩ Doutre-Roussel,
who is THE reason behind many chocolate makers love for tasting cacao
and fine chocolate. She wrote the little pink & black book called:
The Chocolate Connoisseur that many of us 'chocophiles' keep
within arms' reach on our book shelves.


I was amazed last year at how much knowledge I gained. And again this year I absorbed more knowledge in two days than during the previous nine years I've spent researching and writing about the chocolate industry. Working with chocolate and making chocolate, as I have for many years now, is truly a wonderful way to learn. But there is a magic that happens at the Unconference that cannot easily be explained. The openness of the chocolate makers, who are really competitors in a business sense, continually amazes me. They collaborate, share ideas and business practices, and arrive with good intentions to help others, while also taking in a slew of chocolate making tips to better their own craft.



Chocolate makers who just started up, and chocolate makers who've been building brands and businesses sat in the same room learning new things.  Sessions were attendee-driven, topics pre-decided based on the conference goers themselves. There was a session for everyone, and each one an open forum for ideas. The 'law of two feet' also helped anyone who found themselves in a session that was not a good fit, and so anyone could get up and move to a different session without judgement.

There was a lot of time for discussion and learning
between chocolate makers and industry professionals at the Unconference.

The conference also gives us chocolate makers and chocolate researchers, writers, etc. a chance to 'talk chocolate' for 2 days straight. Something we don't often get at home, for those of us with no staff or family members in the same business. It enables us to freely 'think aloud' about things we have only internalized all year long.  Or perhaps for those of us who don't have the time to be online communicating with other chocolate makers as often as we like. At the Unconference, we can leave the roasting, winnowing, grinding , dipping, moulding and all the dishes behind and just focus on the beans, the learning, and the tasting (oh, did I mention we tasted chocolate on both days this year? YES.)



So if you are a chocolate maker, whether new to the industry or a veteran who wants to find new ways to run your business, plan to attend the Unconference next in year in Seattle. Granted November is a stressful time of year for most chocolate makers, it can give you a chance to relax, breath and tackle the Christmas season with a fresh outlook on your business, just in time for the January lull where you will have time to apply the ideas and learning that you take away from the Unconference.

And you can then attend the Northwest Chocolate Festival, where you can create a stir by selling your goods, or by simply buying stacks of chocolate that will inspire you. Below is just some of the stash I came away with from this year's NW Chocolate Fest.



Over the next few weeks, and perhaps months (let's face it, my chocolate making and confection business has been getting in the way of my blogging time recently), I will be telling you about some of the chocolate and makers that I found this year at the Chocolate Maker's Unconference and Northwest Chocolate Fest. And I will try, more often, to share some of my learning and recipes. And tune in to Instagram (@ultimatelychocolate), Twitter (@ultimatelychoc) or Facebook for past pics of the NW festival, plus future pics of what I am tasting and making, as well as doing with my leftover cocoa husks this holiday season. So stay tuned!

A lot of chocolate was for sale at the NW Chocolate Fest
as well as art work, gifts and books about chocolate!


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